The two co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit commission, Alan K. Simpson and Erskine Bowles, just finished speaking at the Peterson Foundation’s fiscal summit. But the big question of the session, repeated in various ways by the moderator, Leslie Stahl of CBS News, went unanswered: is it politically feasible for the bipartisan group to agree on recommendations to really reduce the deficit?
Here are some highlights, hastily transcribed:
Simpson: Both us agreed we may be only able to move the football a yard … We are going to get savaged from the right and from the left. Every time we go out, people are following us and asking, "Are you going to have a VAT tax? What’s going to happen to the children?"
Bowles: It’s going to be about trust and confidence. If both sides don’t believe the other side is serious, that we are not in this for political gain … The arithmetic is clear, the solutions are relatively easy to see, but [coming up with] the political will to make the really tough decisions is [going to be our job].
Simpson and Bowles kept coming back to their goal of educating the public about the urgency of the problem. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, seemed bent on upsetting the political orthodoxy of both parties. He skewered Republicans who are already attacking him for being a “stalking horse’’ to raise taxes. And he reminded liberal listeners that there simply won’t be money left for “poor children’’ and other goals.
Simpson: Something is terribly, terribly wrong with this Congress -- a dysfunctional Congress in that sense. We were taught to bring home the bacon. Now the pig is dead.
Stahl asked them what would happen if the 18-member commission deadlocks, which many experts consider likely.
Bowles: In my mind, that won’t be a victory, but we will have made real progress if we can get some push from them on elected officials to actually face up to this problem … We have to convince them that Paul Ryan [Republican House member from Wisconsin and a panel member] was right and Andy Stern [former president of Service Employees International Union] was right, and that this is the most predictable economic crisis in history and if we don’t do something about it, we’re going to become a second-rate power.
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The Fiscal Times , an independent business venture, is funded by Peter Peterson, but is not affiliated with his foundation.